Thanks to this being 2009 when everything is available for viewing anywhere all the time, I’ve seen more Big League baseball in the month of March than I would have seen in half-a-season in, say, 1979.
Indeed, as long ago as 2006, few spring games were televised. Now, several are on every day. Not to mention the World Baseball Classic, which has been a super-hit this year, the quality of play at Major League level and intriguing.
Every MLB game will be televised, or video-cast, in some format this year, a far cry from crowds of 1,500 at the Oakland Coliseum — A’s v. M’s for last place in a dismal 1978, I was there — and no radio broadcast.
But, I digress.
Based on early observation, my picks for “surprise” teams this season in the American League:
Orioles, Indians and Royals.
The O’s under Larry McPhail seem much better and on the right track. Their pitching has improved greatly and appears underrated. Their farm system has stepped up with prospects and enthusiasm. I believe they will pound the ball. Unfortunately, the AL East is an incredibly tough neighborhood as we all know. But this team will be interesting, probably for the first half of the seasn before fading under the pressure of Sox-Yanks-Rays and come what may.
Similarly, the Indians look very strong. With Joe Mauer appearing out for a long period of time, so goes the hopes of the Twins, who will be strong, but not strong enough. It looks like the Tribe will be able to challenge the White Sox. Pitching is strong despite the losses — CC, no-no etc. — with Lee and Carmona looking good so long as their arms don’t fail them now. Wood isn’t the 1998 version, but is a bullpen upgrade. Their bats are flat-out awesome. I like this team.
Flying under the radar, the Royals have assembled a balanced, and impressive, team of good, exciting young players supplemented by winning veterans. The team displays speed and power, a top-line bullpen and strong group of starting pitchers. The defense appears solid. What more can we ask? They haven’t won anything in decades, but this team has the look of a real contender, maybe the Rays of 2009.
Then again, I’ve seen a lot of Royals games the last few years, much to my chagrin. Frankly, I’ve made an obscure specialty of watching Royals games, despite living on the West Coast. There has been a wackiness to them the last few years reminiscent of the 1960s Mets. I’ve developed a soft spot for those darn guys, especially after witnessing some amazing defeat-snatched-from-victory efforts over time. But ,they always hustle.
I’ve also enjoyed Indians games, since Cleveland appears to be a mirror, or polar, opposite of San Diego. I liked the obscurity of Indians players — the likes of Grady Sizemore, Jhonnny (bonus points for spelling that name correctly) Peralta and Jim Thome — whose performances speak for themselves, even if nobody outside of Cleveland listens.
With that said, I might go to a sports book in Vegas and drop a couple of Andrew Jacksons on both teams to make the playoffs. However, I’m not a betting man (and have seen a load of Royals and Indians games over the years).